Typically, right after I leave a movie I have a pretty clear idea of my thoughts on it. I tend to fully know whether or not it lived up to my expectations, whether or not I found it funny, entertaining, well-made, and most importantly whether or not I liked it. However, in the case of Uncut Gems, this usual certainty I have surrounding films I just viewed was anything but certain. Uncut Gems was easily one of the most anxiety-inducing movies I have ever seen, and even so I still really liked it. It’s similar to when cars drive by an accident on the side of the road; it’s shocking and awful, yet people still slow down their cars to look anyway. To get to the conclusion of whether or not I enjoyed Uncut Gems will take some thinking and deeper critical analysis, but by the end of my review I think I’ll have worked out my answer.
Uncut Gems is about a New York City jeweler named Howard Ratner. From the start it’s established Ratner is a scheming man, who’s always trying to scam someone or profit off of anyone that he can. One of Ratner’s defining characteristics is that he is a gambling addict, which is further fueled by the high-end and lucrative jewelry industry he is a part of. When Ratner receives a gem valued at close to $1 million, he misguidedly loans it to a prospective client who attempts to keep it for himself. With numerous people after him, Ratner tries to get back the gem in time to sell it, in an attempt to pay off his gambling debts.
Uncut Gems stars Adam Sandler, Idina Menzel, Julia Fox, Lakeith Stanfield, Kevin Garnett, and The Weeknd. Sandler as Howard Ratner was easily one of the better performances I’ve seen this past year. He plays a downright despicable and quite honestly infuriating character so well, while simultaneously evoking empathy from the viewer. We as the audience know that Ratner is a bad guy, yet we still kind of root for him even as he spends the entirety of the movie screwing people over, lying compulsively, making bad decisions, and gambling dangerously to the point of self-destruction. All of the supporting performances are also noteworthy, especially Julia Fox and Kevin Garnett. Fox plays Julia, Ratner’s mistress, whose motives we’re not all that sure of. Kevin Garnett plays himself and does so wonderfully. You might be thinking that Garnett is not worthy of praise because anyone should be able to play themselves, but this is much easier said than done. Garnett, who has never acted before, holds his own amongst seasoned actors in this suspense-ridden film and has full control over every scene he is in.
Uncut Gems is the Safdie Brothers’ second major film, following their 2017 sleeper hit, Good Time which stars Robert Pattinson. Just as in Good Time, the Safdie Brothers relish in the idea of anxiety and chaos. Uncut Gems is described by no better words, and this could be attributed to the unconventional narrative style that it utilizes. Most films tend to follow a cause-and-effect, linear logic, which is basically when a problem arises (ex. Who stole my key?), an answer becomes known (ex. The key was stolen by Character A), which then leads to a new problem (ex. Where is Character A?), which then must be solved, and so on and so forth. However, in Uncut Gems this is not the style of storytelling. Instead, things just happen. Just when we think a problem will be resolved, a new problem springs up without providing any answers to the previous problem. This nerve-racking and chaotic structure underlies the whole film and greatly reflects the internal state of Ratner himself, making for an extremely stressful viewing as we never have any clue how the film will progress or ultimately conclude.
A very important quality to the film, which I think is often overlooked in most movies, is the sound editing and mixing. In Uncut Gems, there is an emphasis on noises, which allows the Safdie Brothers to create an overstimulated environment which, through sound-itself, becomes all the more hectic. In most films, sound and specifically ambient noise is often toned down so that we can hear the characters talk clearly to each other, however in Uncut Gems all of these ambient sounds are seemingly amplified. This makes for much more intense sequences as our minds must process so many different loud noises occurring simultaneously. This is especially evident in a scene in which there is a door-jam that Ratner is trying to fix in his jewelry shop. In that scene there are around 8 different characters screaming at each other, alarms ringing, a radio blaring, people banging on glass, power tools whirring, a hammer hitting metal, and more. The prominence that sound and the way it is craftily included and accentuated in scenes of chaos help to make an already stress-inducing movie all the more taxing on the viewer.
Uncut Gems clocks in at an intimidating 2 hours and 40 minutes, but does not feel nearly as long as its runtime. The story simply never stops and operates at high speed at all times. Ratner is constantly on the move throughout the film and we are never treated to catch our breaths along with him. It is a movie that had me literally pulling at my hair as I watched, because of how tense and unpredictable it was. Is Uncut Gems a movie I outright loved in a conventional sense and will watch time and time again? Probably not. But is it a movie worth watching, and deserving of recognition for how effectively it works at crafting a gripping story? Definitely. Uncut Gems exists in a league of its own and takes you on an adrenaline-charged ride that keeps you at a heightened state of stress even after the credits begin rolling. For this, I both enjoyed and appreciated Uncut Gems as it is definitely an intense cinematic experience I won’t forget any time soon. It is a divisive film for a reason and it’s probably not for everyone. However, if you want to truly experience a movie and genuinely feel what the characters in the movie feel, then I highly recommend giving it a shot.
Cover Photo: TPR